Choosing Gear To Get Started in Real Estate Photography For Least the Cost

May 13th, 2012

Posts that I’ve done in the past discussing gear to get started in real estate photography have been some of the most popular posts on the blog. Every year or so I like to revisit the subject. The underlying assumption here is that you want to get started with the lowest possible cost. First some general principles:

  1. Don’t fool around with point-and-shoot (non-interchangeable lens) cameras: A primary gear driver in real estate photography is a good quality wide angle lens and this means you need a DSLR (interchangeable lenses). Don’t even think about using a wide angle converter that screws on a point and shoot, most are total crap!
  2. Ultra wide-angle glass is the most important gear you need: For real estate photography the range of effective focal lengths you will want is between 16mm and 24mm. Understand that low-end cropped sensor DSLRs have a 1.5 (Nikon) or 1.6 (Canon) multiplier effect on the effective focal lengths. Spending money on wide angle glass is far more important than spending it on a camera body. For a list of the possibilities see my lens table that shows all the major choices and a reader poll that lists what’s popular with PFRE readers.
  3. Which DSLR body you use doesn’t make much difference: What I mean is that compared to the wide angle lens you choose the DSLR body doesn’t have all that much effect on your results. I assume that if you are going for the lowest possible cost you will be starting out with a cropped sensor DSLR. See my Camera table that lists all the current choices and has a reader poll that shows what is the most popular.
  4. Everyone needs at least one flash: (Yongnuo or Nikon SB80-DX) Lighting is a key issue in real estate photography. While most successful interior photographers eventually realize that multiple small flashes are the way to get the best results, many start out shooting brackets, process with Exposure Fusion and eventually grow into multiple flash technique. Even if you are going to are going to start out shooting brackets, a single flash improves your results noticeably. This is why I recommend even beginners have at least one flash unit. For processing a series of brackets I recommend using Exposure Fusion (sometimes called blending). I think it’s best to stay away from HDR for interiors because it’s just too hard  and too much work to do it well. I only know a handful of people that manage to do HDR interior well, and many of them have moved to Exposure Fusion because it is not as time consuming in post-processing.
  5. “Kit” lenses (the cheap lenses that manufacturers bundle with low-end DSLRs are not wide enough for interiors. Kit lens typically are in the 18-35mm range (28.8-56mm effective focal length on a Canon body) are not wide enough for shooting interiors.
  6. Consider used equipment for sale online: Check craigslist.org or ebay.com or amazon.com for used equipment. There is a lot of good used gear available online. You can save hundreds of dollars by purchasing used gear.
  7. Get a sturdy tripod for your camera: A Manfrotto  or other similar sturdy tripod is adequate.
  8. Get an inexpensive tripod to use for a flash stand so you can get your flash off your camera and move it around independently of the camera.
  9. Move your flash off your camera: To move your flash off your camera you’ll need some kind of triggering device. My trigger page has a summary of the popular triggers used by real estate photographers and a reader poll that show’s the popularity of each.
  10. Use a circular polarizing filter for exterior shots:  A polarizing filter is a must for external shots, it makes clouds look great, gives a saturated look to colors.

There is some classic real estate photography gear that’s worth highlighting:

  1. Canon 10-22mm wide angle lens: Even though this lens is close to twice as expensive as #2 this is the most popular wide angle lens for real estate photography. It’s quality is outstanding. This lens is designed for cropped sensors like Canon Rebels and only works on Canon cropped sensor DSLRs.
  2. Canon 10-18mm wide angle lens (new 8/2014)This lens was introduced in the spring of 2014 and it’s looking like this lens may well be as good as the Canon 10-22mm referenced above and is about have the price. As of 8/2014 I’m recommending this lens to Canon owners interested in shooting real estate.
  3. Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 wide angle lens: This is the second most popular real estate photography lens. There’s a version for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Sony and Samsung DSLR bodies. It’s quality is good but not as good as the Canon 10-22mm.
  4. Nikon SB-80dx flash: Even though they are hard to find because they are only available used these little guys are worth the $130 to $145 you’ll have to pay for them because they have  sensitive built-in optical triggers and have very fine power adjustment.

22 Responses to “Choosing Gear To Get Started in Real Estate Photography For Least the Cost”

  • Our beginner setup was a Rebel XTi (owned for a couple years) and a Tamron 10-24mm. I wish we would have just skipped the Tamron and went straight to the Canon 10-22. Love this lens. For flashes, we have the Yongnuo 560s (4). I think these are great for $70/ea. We’re using the T3i camera now. Maybe one day we’ll move up to a nice full body! It gets us by for the time being!

  • Not sure about the kit lens advise there Larry. I’d say a camera with just a super wide zoom is pretty limited, even for RE. Once you get outside and start shooting the externals there’s usually no need to go too wide, much better to get shots in the more normal range of a kit lens.
    I’ve got fast zooms in the 17-50 and 50-150 range, but for RE where you can shoot happily at f8 I find the 18-200 to be a really usefull lens.

  • i agree with Marcus…for most exteriors i switch to my 18-200. I find standing further back reduces the converging lines issue on exteriors.

    My current gear is:
    Nikon D90
    SB 700 flash (1)
    Manfrotto tripod (I did spend money on a good tripod head, i found that helps alot!)

  • I can’t recommend the Sigma 10-20 f/3.5 over the 4.5-5.6. When comparing it to the 4.5-5.6 version of the lens, it’s a little more expensive but there’s very little barrel distortion, which saves time in post, and a much sharper image. It’s a higher quality lens in general. The only issue I have with it is the 82mm filter diameter. This is an obscene size.

    One more piece of equipment I would recommend as a minimum a circular polarizer. It’s not absolutely necessary but when doing the exteriors it removes window reflections and really makes clouds pop. The value there is obvious. A cheap one can be had for $30.

  • @jeff- You are absolutely right about the circular polarizer… it’s a must have for exteriors! The image that I use for the header image of the little home on the lake was done with a polarizer. The client we were selling the home for was as photographer. When he saw my first exterior shot of his home he gently reminded me that I should be using a polarizer for this kind of shot… when I reshot it I remember being stunned by the difference it made.

  • I find I use my wide angle lens for a lot of exteriors as well. Lots are small in this area (most are a little less than 1/4 acre) and often there is a tree in the front yard that forces me to stand even closer in order to actually take a picture of the the house and not just the tree. The only way I can get the house in the shot is to use the wide angle.

  • I too find myself using my wide angle on most exteriors. I’m always looking for a way to step back and switch lenses but there is always a tree where it shouldn’t be or big powerlines in the way. Another note on the circular polarizer, mine stays on almost all the time. It’s great for reducing glare on hardwood floors and granite countertops.

  • I too use my cross polarizer filter on all out door shots. It makes a huge difference in the sky and helps with highlight corrections. Brings more color to the shot. I am using a Tamron 10-24 lense and I use it for all of my interior and exterior shots. I have to make sure I keep the lense very level to avoid distortion. I am using it nearly wide open all the time and I can crop if needed in PP. It is a good lenes for the money. The difuser on my flash is capable of lighting the room with the wide lense. I can’t do it without it.

    David

  • Hey All, this is my first post and thought I might add my 2 cents, which in this current economy is probably only worth 1.3 cents. Anyway, I would like to throw in the Tokina 12-24 F4 if I may. I use it for my landscapes and am just getting my feet wet in RE photography. It’s a great lens and like my other Tokina lenses, is very sharp. I had wondered myself about the polarizer for interiors as well; but I only have a Moose filter, so I don’t know if it would work or not.

  • you should add the nikon D3200 to the list. it’s a great camera, really cheap considering it has a built in focus motor.

  • For beginners, as an alternative to Canon, I’d recommend a used D90 body for RE; you can fire a 3-shot bracket at 2 stops each with one press of the shutter button, CA is corrected in-camera (I shoot JPG for RE) and you can pick up a low-mileage body for $500. A used Tokina 12-24 can be had for $250-300, which has correctable distortion (unlike the Sigma) and it keeps you from going to 10mm for every shot (too wide for 95% of shots). It’s also built like a tank; my 11-16 (same body) took a launch off the roof of my car at 30 mph and survived! “Blazzeo” flash triggers can be found on ebay for about $30 with 2 receivers and you can find Maxxum 4000 AF flashes for $15-20 and Vivitar 285′s for $30 on ebay. Maybe the best purchased I’ve made though is a Slik 700DX tripod, very impressive for $100.

  • With regard to using a polarizing filter, I am always mindful when using it outdoors on a wide angle lens. The influence of the polarizer varies according to its angle to the sun. When your camera is at a right angle to the sun you get maximum effect; but, if you face your camera directly at, or away from the sun, you get minimum effect of the polarizer.

    With an ultra-wide angle lens, one edge of your frame might be nearly facing the sun, whereas the opposing edge might be facing 90° away from the sun. This means that you will be able to see the changing influence of your polarizer across a single photo, which results in a graduated sky. Just something to watch for.

  • Thank you for continuing to provide this excellent resource. I have hired professionals as a result of what I have read here and have also expanded my own inventory to some of my every day work.
    What flash do you recommend using with a canon 5d mark ii when taking interior shots? I was looking for a table like you did for the lenses (how I bought my Canon 10-22mm) but couldn’t find one.
    Thank you!!
    Jason

  • @Jason- Most people who shot interiors with flash use manual flash with the flash(s) off the camera. Scott Hargis’s ebook gives all the details on how to do it. If you use Scott’s technique I recommend this flash.

  • My gear is Canon EOS 40D with Tokina 12-24mm f/4. Using good tripod Manfroto for the camera and cheap tripod for flash. Which is Jessops 360AFDC…

  • [...] you want to learn more about taking photos for real estate listings, check out the Photography for Real Estate blog, which has great tips and advice for taking [...]

  • Considering upgrading my equipment and looking for real world advice on the better package for real estate photography. Right now I have a Canon T2i with the Tokina 12-24 and thinking of either upgraded both body and lens to Canon T4i and Canon 10-22mm. Now, what I really want to know is if the upgrade to full frame really makes a noticable difference? I’m open to making the investment but want to know if it’s really worth it? Thinking Canon 6D vs. the 5D MII with the Canon 16-35mm lens. Would really appreciate some real-world advice from those who have shot with all of these in the field. I’d love to see some photos taken with an APC-S sensor camera so I can realize what is possible. No doubt it may not be my hardware as much as my skill level and post production efforts but I’m just not getting the results I want. My images are rather lifeless lately.

    Thanks,

    Link

  • Hi Link,
    For real estate work I doubt that you’d be able to tell the difference between a T2i and a T4i. Glass is more important and will make more difference. You would probably be able to tell the difference with a 10-22mm.

    As for the difference between a cropped sensor and a full frame, yes there’s a difference but unless you compare the two you will never know if the difference is worth it to you. I would suggest that you rent a 5DMkII + 16-35mm( it only cost $127 for 5 days @ http://www.lensrentals.com/search?q=Canon+16-35&store=canon) and find out if it’s worth it to you.

  • The reason not to waste time on point and shoot cameras is not the lens really. There are some point and shoot cameras out there with 22mm equivalent to 35mm lenses, eg the new Sony DSC-H200. The problem with them is the sensor is too small and thus very noisy for many indoor shots. That Sony has 1/2.3″ size sensor, compare that to APS-C’s 1.6″.

  • Just wondering if anyone is using the Nikon 24mm tilt/shift lens for projects? As I make the transition from Weddings/Portraits to RE, I was considering selling a body or two as well as a couple of my lenses to purchase this one. I shoot, mainly, with my D3 and have a D300S for backup. I have a 17-35 2.8 – do you think I need to purchase (used, of course) something wider, or will this do for the time being? My favs for portraiture is my fixed focus 85mm, 1.4 & my 70-200, 2.8. I see that some of you are using the 70-200 for exteriors.

    Just in case anyone is wondering, WHY? Honestly, I am sick of the gross amount of post production from weddings. I officially shot my last wedding 10 months ago and feel so much better! I was only taking about 350 images at a wedding (compared to my much cheaper counterparts, shooting 2000+), but with three young children – I found myself at the computer more than with them (Daughters 6,9,12). My husband used to help me but he is in med school (mid-life career change) and I, too, am ready for a change.

    Additionally, many thanks to Larry as well as all of the contributors. Although I have been in the business for many years (I grew up shooting medium format Mamya & Hasselblad weddings/portraits), I can see that there is still so much to learn. I am looking forward to beginning this new adventure with your help!

  • @Lisa- 24-T/S and 17-35 are perfect on a D3. My folks use 24 T/S extensively but neither lens will be wide enough on a D300s. An effective focal length of between 17mm and 24mm best for interiors. Best of luck in your new adventure.

  • I can tell you that the best lens I found was the Tokina 11MM-16MM fixed F2.8 AP! Compared to what you will pay for a Nikon, this lens is the better buy! I am a Realtor and get on average 10-15 listings a month. I only get to shoot about half of them with Nikon D7000 and when I look at photo’s other Agents use, I just cant believe the client would be happy with them! Its by far one of the most important tools a Realtor should have…a good NIkon/Canon with wide angle camera and separate flash. Photography is now a passion of mind and I am just beginner so I need to learn how to manipulate flash. For now, I use photoshop CS6.